Sevendust Guitarist Clint Lowery Talks Time Traveling and Staying Fresh

Sevendust Time TravelersOn June 4, Clint Lowery and his Georgian brethren will hit Boston for “An Evening with Sevendust,” an intimate show in support of the Atlanta rockers’ recently released Time Travelers & Bonfires. The entirely acoustic album is a bit of a departure from the band’s usual heavy fare, selling in excess of 15,000 copies in its first week to debut on the US Billboard Chart at number 19.

But Sevendust fans have been clamoring for something like this since 2004’s acoustic mini-tour and accompanying live album, Southside Double-Wide.

Back then, Clint explains in this exclusive interview for The Backstage Beat, “the Southside Double-Wide acoustic version of our band…we didn’t realize how much momentum it was gaining. People were constantly asking us, and we just started to listen. Like, ‘You guys really need to do another run of that…you only did 14 or 15 dates.’ Now, we want to be able to present ourselves in a different way as opposed to the same old electric show that people have been seeing for years. It gives us a way to stay fresh for our fans, something that—for us—was fresh, and something fresh for the diehards. To give a different flavor of the band.”

Sevendust is one of few acts that can pull off both heavy and mellow songs with equal power and poise. The first six tracks on Time Travelers & Bonfires, the new tunes written exclusively for this album, show off their ability to write emotionally intense music in a bare bones acoustic environment.

“When we’re getting ready to do another Sevendust record,” Clint says, “if I pick up an acoustic, I always try to write something with a strong melody, and sometimes I’ll voice memo it, document it: ‘Sevendust melody idea, number whatever’. Without the bells and whistles, it’s just a song. Chord changes and a vocal melody.”

And with the other six tracks, Sevendust excels at what many heavier bands have attempted (and often painfully failed) to do: they translated a handful of their classic songs into atmospheric acoustic versions. But as the guitarist is quick to point out, even the most crushing electric tracks frequently have unplugged roots.

“Sometimes when I’m writing a chorus, even if the music on the track is heavy, I’ll pull out an acoustic because…with just an acoustic and a vocal, you can really pinpoint the melody and focus on the melody. Like the chorus of ‘Trust’. I wrote the chorus of that song on an acoustic, just messed around with it, and spliced it with the heavier riffs in the beginning.”

Clint Lowery AcousticFor Clint, it always comes back to the purity of the song in its most raw and stripped down form.

“If you can write a song acoustic, if it has any kind of weight to it, it stands on its own. When you put it into a heavy song, it just automatically survives because it can stand on its own. To me, any song you can do acoustically is going to stand the test of time.”

In late 2013, Sevendust opted to crowdfund the then-forthcoming album. The PledgeMusic campaign offered fans an opportunity to invest in the album’s production and receive, in return, behind-the-scenes access and special rewards chosen by the band. The fundraising goal was met, and well surpassed, within a matter of days.

“I think it’s great that you can rely on just your fan base,” Lowery says, though he is always wary of the music business’s fragile state of affairs. “We watch so many bands going down and we’ve always been the type of band to say maybe this is our time, our ticket’s up, maybe people are moving on. But it’s weird, people keep coming around and we still have this ongoing, organic fan base. Sometimes we lose people: ‘Oh, they’re not as heavy as they used to be,’ or ‘They’re too light,’ or ‘They’re too heavy.’ We’ve had an assortment of fans over the years that have come and gone, but there’s always this army behind us. We get very insecure and then we see this pledge and think, This is a special community we have with these people; these people are really our life’s blood. The industry I could care less about. The label part of it, all that stuff, the managers sometimes…that just annoys me. I just want to connect with the fans and that’s it.”

The connection is essential, Clint stresses, and the band takes nothing for granted. “We’re very blue collar. You have to be cool with your people. You have to be cool with every single person you run into. Every person that’s out there in the parking lot.”

But when it comes to the business of the music, Lowery has never been shy about expressing his distaste for the industry.

“Guys have always been walking in and out of our lives on the business side. In and out. We don’t have any of the original people that started out with us, any of the label people. They’re all exchangeable, and there’s new people that inherit the band that just have no idea what we’re really about.”

What they’re really about is the fans. And the crowdfunding campaign represents their ideal: cut out the middleman and go directly to the people who really care.

“Those people in the parking lots, or wherever, they’re the ones who invested in us. They’re the real investors. And then you can take it one step further and get their actual input, what kind of presentation they want, how many songs. I mean, some artists are just very particular and they want it their way and they don’t care what anyone else thinks, but in our situation we like to know what people want. There are bands like…I mean, we’re fans…I wish I could’ve asked Pantera back in the day,” he says, laughing. “They didn’t ask for any input whatsoever.”

Sevendust AcousticWhile the industry as a whole continues to sink deeper into uncertainty, Lowery appears excited about the possibilities such campaigns offer. He believes crowdfunding will not only become more and more commonplace, but perhaps even necessary, as time goes on.

“I watched The Artifact, that documentary that 30 Seconds to Mars did. Man, one day, a kid’s gonna figure out how to release a song by himself and reach a billion fans. We’ll know records as those things we talk about when we’re old.” Adopting a crotchety voice, he adds, “Remember when people actually used to sell records?”

He laughs, but insists that the value is still there, even during a time when fewer and fewer people buy albums.

“The value is reaching as many people as you can. If you reach those people who love what you do, then they’ll come and they’ll pay to watch you play. And that’s the main source of income for all bands.”

No one will argue that selling a boatload of records is a monumental feat in the this day and age, but even touring and surviving on the road as a career musician is much different than in the 1990s when Sevendust formed.

“In the beginning, there was a way bigger machine behind us. And once the training wheels and the crutches went off, we really built that connection within. I give a lot of credit where credit’s due; in the early days there was a lot of money put into the band toward support. They helped build us financially. It’s different now in a lot of ways because we’re more of a brand name, and there’s been a lot of blood, sweat, and tears to get us to this point. But we’re more on autopilot now. We’ve established what we are with our fan base. The key is to make music that keeps growing and never gets stagnant. So many bands lost their edge and they don’t have anything to offer anymore, these bands I’ve loved, and they’re making these bummer records. It’s just not the same. Doesn’t have the same energy. And obviously there’s an edge you’re gonna lose as you get older. There’s an ambition that, when you’re young, is incredible. But [finding] new ways to keep that spirit, you just gotta work. You can’t get lazy in your old age.”

For many musicians, collaborating with other artists is one way to keep the energy and spirit fresh. On his own, Clint has shared the studio and stage with a number of different bands (including a live run with Korn after Brian “Head” Welch departed), and with Sevendust, recording with artists as diverse as the Deftones’ Chino Moreno, and Skin from Skunk Anansie.

Personally, he has his own dream collaboration in mind.

“You know that Sound City documentary that Dave Grohl did? That team with Trent [Reznor] and Josh [Homme] and Dave Grohl? I would die to be in that room. Melodically, musically, what they were doing…that’s where I live. Those guys have inspired me tremendously in all their individual projects, be it Queens [of the Stone Age] or Nine Inch Nails or Dave Grohl on his own. To me, what they were doing, that was pure. It was so good. And there’s so many other bands that are doing cool things, but those guys, man, they’ve been around. They’re the guys.”

And with more than a shred of humility, Clint adds, “I would be, obviously, the most novice guy there, but I definitely feel like I could hang with them and stand up and contribute. If I could get past the idea that it’s these people.” He laughs again, and says, “But they don’t put off that vibe. Well, Trent is a little intimidating…”

The good humor in Lowery’s voice is clear. Things are going well for him and his band. He’s happy, if a little taken aback, that Sevendust is still alive and kicking after nearly 20 years together.

"I’m surprised and grateful that we’ve been able to keep it together and keep mutual respect and love, and we rely on each other. It’s just amazing that we’re still able to do this.”

[Originally published in The Backstage Beat, May 9, 2014)